Friday, May 03, 2013

The [Updated] History of the C&MA in Canada as it Relates to Women in Leadership

The Great Debate by Alex Meek
The following is based in part on the research presented in Alexandra Meek Sharman's MA thesis at McMaster University, entitled The Great Debate. With her kind permission I am here summarizing two chapters, but I highly recommend finding it at luluitunes, or in McMaster's digital commons. More info on the early years of the C&MA can be found in Barbara Howe's Forgotten Voices. Most of the information after 2000 is collected first or second-hand to the best of my knowledge.
y interest here is neither to aggravate nor to defame the denomination to which I belong, but to promote an informed and historical perspective as it relates to ongoing denominational discussions. I welcome your questions and comments but also ask you to observe respect for this, my family of churches, as we work through one of the more difficult biblical and cultural interpretation issues of today within a widely varied community of churches. 


Albert and Margaret Simpson
1881 - A.B. Simpson, ordained Presbyterian minister, resigns to do evangelistic work in New York. Practical and theological convictions play in to his departure: In the first case, he feels constrained in his fervour to reach as many as possible with the gospel, and in the second case he has differences of opinion with Reformed teaching on baptism and sanctification, as well as healing and eschatology. Before long, an independent congregation grows out of his activities. 

1887 - Two societies begin: The Christian Alliance and the Evangelical Missionary Alliance, intended not as churches or denominations but as service arms for co-operating churches. 

John Salmon
1889 - John Salmon, former Methodist pastor, invites Simpson to share his vision in Canada and ends up birthing the "Dominion [i.e., Canadian] Auxiliary Branch of the Christian Alliance." First president is William Howland, and the vice-presidents are John Salmon and Maggie Scott.

1891 - Salmon has Simpson officiate an ordination service, which causes some to leave the Auxiliary because it is now perceived to be acting as a denomination (which presumably brings them into conflict with their home churches and determines a choice).

In the early years, in both Canada and the U.S., women are involved in all levels of ministry. A.B. Simson's wife, Margaret, serves as a member of the Board of Managers, as the superintendent of assignment of missionaries, and as financial secretary for many years (see Leslie Andrews paper on Simpson's views on women in ministry here). During this time woman are not, however, referred to as church pastors, ordinands, or elders. Neither does the Alliance self-identify as a denomination, nor its branches self-identify as organized churches.

1912 - A General Council agrees to a new constitution organizing the congregations/branches that have stabilized and, in this time, begins focusing more intently on foreign missions. 

1914-1918 - World War
1918 - Women in Canada may now vote in federal elections

1920s - Edmonton's Beulah Tabernacle the first C&MA Church in the West. J.H. Woodward calls for help spreading the Word in the area and has four assistant circuit-preachers/ministers, one of whom is Muriel Owen. In the meantime, Margaret Connor begins (and preaches to) new congregations in Denzil, Allenbach, Elk and Major, Saskatchewan. In 1923 Woodward sends a summer student, Catherine McCoy, to help Connor begin a congregation in Greenvale, Saskatchewan. When Connor asks the C&MA to provide a man to take over congregations so she can keep planting more, in the process she is made an official C&MA worker. Later she becomes a pastor at Beulah. These women are not mentioned in this video but it gives a sense of the early days of the C&MA in the West.

1922 - Miss A.B. Rose preaches to and pastors a congregation in Lac LaBiche. Elsewhere, Raymond Francisco requests that the C&MA send a "really good young man to be a full-time pastor" for him so he can return to school. They send two women: Della Carstead and Grace Johns, from the Canadian Bible Institute.

1928 - The C&MA forms a District in the West and three women are on the District Executive Committee (DEXCOM), including Margaret Connor.

1928 - The Third Annual Conference of the C&MA decides to maintain current practice and not ordain women, but to maintain that they are deaconesses, as is the practice for A.B. Simpson south of the border.

1929 - Myrtle Bradley pastors a congregation in Regina, Saskatchewan, despite it having a male chairman, secretary and treasurer who were apparently capable. Many more stories about women in ministry in the Canadian C&MA during this period can be found in Barbara Howe's Forgotten Voices.

1939-1945 - World War 2
1960s-1980s - Second Wave Feminism

Dr. Harry Turner
1960 - Dr. Turner, President of the C&MA, declares it has officially become a church denomination and should begin self-identifying as such. The dilemma now, as Alexandra Meek Sharman puts it, is that "[i]f Simpson's ecclesiology was to be followed women should no longer be able to serve as pastors or 'branch leaders' ... [or] the official role of an Elder"  (40). Women continue to minister in roles available to them, still recognized as deaconesses.

1960s-80s - Significant growth in the Canadian branch of the C&MA, including its school, now called Canadian Bible College, in Regina, Saskatchewan. (I would be very interested in more information from this period).

1980s - Believing it true to the movement's initial impulses, at least one pastor, Rev. Ross Ingram of Southern Ontario, hires female pastors and places women on the elder's board of his church. When asked to remove women from the board he does not, arguing that his is acting within denominational precedent and is not in contradiction of Scripture's authority.

Dr. Mel Sylvester
1981 - The C&MA in Canada (hereafter still just C&MA) becomes autonomous from the U.S.A. and Dr. Melvin Sylvester is elected its first President.

At this time the organization of local churches is simplified in distinction from regular practice. Until then churches had been run by an Executive Board (of women and men) and given spiritual oversight by an Elders' Board (all men). Now the two were rolled into one, and would operate as the Elders' Board, with less distinction between administration and spiritual leadership. This single Board would by virtue of the change be all male. One of the women affected by this change was Wendy Thomas, on staff at Cedarview Alliance Church in Nepean, Ontario, who at the time of the change was on her church's Executive Board. She did continue to serve in this capacity, however, because the change was in its early stages.  

1982 - At the C&MA's General Assembly (GA), Pastor Royal Hamel raises the question whether women could serve as Elders. The C&MA's Board of Directors (BOD) commissions a report to be considered at the next GA, in 1984.

1984 - At the next GA, the comissioned report leads the BOD to release a statement called "The Basic Scriptural Principles of Women in Ministry" and to put forward four recommendations. Two were passed (regarding licensing women for various ministry functions) and one was struck down (which proposed that there be a list or eligible roles written up). The remaining recommendation -- which proposed that women not be eligible for elders' boards, for DEXCOM (the district leadership board), or for the national BOD -- was referred to committee. When the Committee on General Legislation brought it back to the floor the next day it was narrowly defeated and an exegetical paper was requested so a more informed discussion could take place.

(In the debate that took place there were arguments against women in leadership which drew support from the masculine grammar of eldership texts and which questioned the hermeneutic and commitment to Scripture's authority of those college and seminary professors in favour of women's leadership. Correlations with the ordination of homosexuals were drawn, and the seminary's President argued against such parallels. Apologies regarding some heated rhetoric followed the next day.)

1988 - After four years the BOD, with the requested report submitted, presents a Statement on women in leadership, which over the course of the debate takes on two new words (indicated in italics) but otherwise is passed as written. In the final report it states "that in the biblical pattern and in the historical practice of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Elders in the church have usually been men. The weight of evidence would imply that normally this pattern should continue." The matter is considered closed, and any further discussion "counterproductive."

It is in this year that an insertion is made to the accreditation policy which prohibits women from being Senior Pastors, which turns out to be the only such place in C&MA policy where such a restriction is explicit. (Referring also to the 2007 removal of this clause, which also took place without discussion with the constituency, in 2013 the then-new President and the BOD would apologize that this "should have been processed more thoroughly with our Alliance family of churches.")

1988-1992 - Following the GA, Pastor Douglas Schroeder-Tabah reports on the matter in an article in Christian Week, interpreting it to mean that local churches, should they feel so led, could assign women to the Elders' Board. Surprised by this interpretation, Pastor Peter Ralph of Westside Alliance Church writes the National Office for clarification, only to learn from vice-president Gerald Fowler, in consultation with President Mel Sylvester, that Schroeder-Tabah's interpretation is valid. Some time later when the Westside congregation in Regina asks if they can have women as Elders, Pastor Ralph assures them they may do so in "good faith". Along with two other churches they end up doing so during this time.

Dr. Arnold Cook
1992 - The new President of the C&MA, Dr. Arnold Cook, thinks Schroeder-Tabah's interpretation of the prior ruling incorrect, and asks these churches to remove the women from their Elders' Boards. Two comply, but Westside does not, defending its course of action as proper.

1996 - At GA in Regina, a woman named Jean Daly is nominated to the BOD (as this aspect of the 1984 deferral had not been dealt with in the subsequent 1988 statement on the matter). The current BOD chairman, Rev. Keith Taylor of Beulah Alliance, looks for consistency with general practice in lieu of clear polity on the matter. Some debate takes place, and before a vote occurs the nominee in question withdraws her name. The following day Ross Howell expresses a general sorrow over some of the things that had been said in the course of what was an emotional debate.

Dr. Miriam Charter
1998 - The issue as it regard the BOD is raised again, and much healthier debate reportedly ensues. Five motions are presented, and all but one carries. From here on women will be allowed to serve on the BOD and DEXCOM, and will also be able to administer the ordinances. The motion regarding eldership is referred, however, to the next GA. Following the vote to allow women to the BOD (which passed by 60%), Miriam Charter is elected (with 75% of the vote) the first woman to serve on the C&MA's governing board since its early years.

2000 - After having consulted another commissioned paper on the matter, the BOD suggests that a consensus may not be reachable despite long arguments from many angles, and so seeks to make it possible for local churches to have Elders if they so choose. Some debate takes place regarding a motion to see to it that these Boards still have a majority of men, but the constitution is finally amended according to a statement put forward by Paul Little from the Committee on General Legislation, which said: "The local church may by a 2/3 majority choose to have women on their Board of Elders."

2007 - The BOD, with the DSs, adopts a new licensing (formerly accreditation) policy which does not carry over language referring to women as Senior Pastors. Only at GA 2012 is there widespread recognition that this was the only place in C&MA policy where a restriction on such a thing was ever explicit. In 2013, new President David Hearn issues an apology that this, along with the 1988 insertion of the clause, "should have been processed more thoroughly with our Alliance family of churches."

2008 - A motion brought to the floor of GA by the BOD asks for the manual's "Statement on Women in Ministry" to be rescinded. A motion is made and carried to postpone this discussion indefinitely, reportedly for the reason that a debate would detract from the "Kingdom business" at hand (namely the church planting initiatives that were to be put forward).

2010 - GA is held outside Canada for the first time, in Turkey, and the tabled motion is not brought up again, other than in Round Table discussions. Sometime after this it is noted that the Statement on Women in Ministry had been removed from the C&MA website (but not formally from C&MA polity), replaced with the explanation:
"The BOD of the C&MA in Canada has ruled that the Position Statement “The Role of Women in Ministry” is inconsistent with legislation adopted by General Assembly (specifically, the Local Church Constitution). Consequently the Board has directed that the statement be removed from the website until such time as the General Assembly considers it appropriate to engage in a full discussion and debate on the issue."
On an online forum opened up to discuss such issues the first and only objections to the removal of this Statement come from those opposed to the Statement itself, who would like to see a proper discussion about the C&MA's stance on this issue rather than what appears to be the deferral of conversation for the sake of status quo. An apology will come in 2013, instigated by complaints at GA 2012 from some of those in favour of the Statement.

The opening up of this online forum for official workers in 2010 is part of a BOD response to a GA recommendation for furthered dialogue. Then-President Franklin Pyles commissions three papers on the issue of ordaining women which are meant to explore whether there is anything in the theology or practice of ordination in the C&MA which makes it gender specific. The exegetical paper explicitly sets out to cover ground which has not had as much coverage in prior publications by looking particularly at the gospels. At GA 2012 the papers are called biased by some who would have liked to have again had papers detailing the various theological positions. Despite prior attempts by some to discuss the papers on the online forum, however, interaction was sparse and lacked direction.

2011 - The 2011 District Conferences host round table discussion of the matter, revealing a wide spectrum of opinion and a good deal of variance not only on gender roles but also on the nature and merits of ordination. 

Promotion for 2012 GA in Winnipeg
Spring 2012 - In the lead-up to General Assembly, as a result of their internal investigations and deliberations, the BOD determines that, as it stands, nothing in the polity restricts women either from ordination or from the senior pastorate--despite the use of the word "man" in the ordination policy and the remaining restriction of females from eldership in most congregations (which thereby also restricts from the senior pastorate). This determination was explained for the constituency in statements found here, and in videos found here.

Summer 2012 - After considerable back and forth in both the preparatory Legislative Committee sessions and then also on the floor of Assembly, at GA 2012 in Winnipeg the delegates vote 380-281 to change the wording of the ordination policy from “men” to “persons,” thus allowing the possibility of women becoming ordained (Pastor Chris Smith gives a full report of the proceedings here).

In the final moments of Assembly, after several items of business had been tabled for lack of time, a motion was made (and then amended a few times from the floor) and carried which brings the question of whether women can be senior pastors to the next GA in 2014. A later statement released on the C&MA website thus clarifies that ordination "does not grant the right to exercise authority over others nor is it required for individuals to function as ministers including the supervision of sacraments and authority to preach or teach the word. Rather, ordination is the public confirmation and affirmation of an individual’s skills, gifts and calling to vocational ministry." It is not altogether clear whether everyone at GA who voted for or against the ordination of women saw ordination it this way--as a matter of fact the round table discussions showed a great variety of opinion on the matter--but that will have to be discussed in 2014.

Fall 2012 - After hearing concerns from the constituency, a letter is sent from President David Hearn which makes three apologies/clarifications: The first relates to the removal of the Statement on Women in Ministry from the website in 2009, the second relates to what turned out to be over-reaching alterations of the licensing policies in 1988 and 2007, and the third relates to the alleged bias of the papers released in advance of GA 2012.

The letter also suggests that the ordination decision will be thought through carefully toward implementation and, to that end, it reveals three significant decisions: The first is that the motion to discuss female senior pastors in 2014 calls for a hold should be put on any such appointments until that time, and the second is that those women whose ministry predates 2012 will have the option whether or not to pursue ordination themselves. The third of these is that those men or women for whom this is a matter of conscience may decline the conferral of ordination after the requirements have been met. (It was my presumption that this referred to the ordinands themselves, but the District Conferences of the summer of 2013 have indicated that some Districts (at least) are granting some allowance for local churches to decline an ordination service as well. It is unclear whether this reconciles with Ordination Policy.)

Finally, the letter also reveals that "in the coming months, [the President will] be establishing a task force to sort out the separate question of whether women can be Senior Pastors." The details surrounding this "task force" are that it will "bring together those representing complementarian and egalitarian perspectives to design a pathway to see both groups valued and affirmed under the theological umbrella of biblical unity and to assist our family of churches in managing the tension such unity may require."

Rev Brian Thom ordains Rev Eunice Smith
2013-2014 - On June 9 the Pacific District ordained Eunice Smith in Richmond, BC--the first woman in C&MA history. In July and August the Eastern District ordained Kathy Klassen at First Alliance in Scarborough and Penny Hall at Emmanuel Alliance in Ottawa, Ontario. On August 6, 2013 the Western Canadian District ordained Helen Chan, who serves as a Chaplain in Alberta.

Other ordinations have since taken place, including Mardi Dolfo-Smith at North Shore Alliance Church in Vancouver on Dec. 15, 2013, Anita Leung at Vancouver Chinese Alliance Church in early 2014, and Miriam Charter, Carla Olsen Draper, Ruth-Anne Gilbertson, and Patricia Love at Foothills Alliance Church in Calgary on March 16, 2014. (Please let me know if you are aware of others ).

As it stands, after 13 years since the vote to allow female elders, an unknown quantity of the C&MA's local churches have voted to do so. (Such statistics have not been kept: a credible estimate has it at around 10%).


This is an attempt to present the facts, but is also open to clarification and discussion. Please feel free to share, ask questions, or prompt elaborations. There is obviously more that could be said. May God be with us as we carry this conversation forward in Christ.

1 comment:

aarondgerrard said...

The Unity Commission thanks you. :)